May
13

Can Chicago Innovate Now?

Chicago has been showing some serious gumption these days. We’ve sent a new crew to lead the country–Obama, Emanuel, Jarrett and Axelrod–and are the leading candidate to bring the Olympics back to the U.S. in 2016. But given that changes are often a bit slow to hit us here in the middle of the country, the question remains: Can Chicago be a leader of innovation?

“I strongly believe that creating an ecosystem that supports and encourages widespread adoption of innovative practices within our businesses will become the single most important thing we can do at this time in our history,” says James Tyree, chair of Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and CEO of Mesirow Financial. He recently made the case to business leaders that an Innovation Czar is needed to transform Illinois.

Geographical hubs and regions, as Richard Florida makes clear, are essential for a prospering United States of Creativity, and Chicago is making its move with its Innovate Now initiative, dedicated to transforming Chicagoland and all of Illinois into a global center for innovation. This unique collaboration among business, academia and the public and nonprofit sectors was created over three years ago to create a new model to spur economic development in the new global economy. Innovation leaders will be gathering for the 2009 Innovation Summit (tickets still available) next Thursday, May 21st in downtown Chicago. The theme is “design + innovation = sustainability.” The Summit asks this question, among others: How can the interplay of design and innovation assist individual businesses and organizations in achieving growth while at the same time contributing to sustainability objectives?

Let’s be honest. Getting the Midwest to embrace innovation is not a simple task. I spoke last week with Lance Pressl, president of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce Foundation, one of the key Innovate Now partners, who shared some of his challenges, which includes the sometimes hard-to-change culture of Chicago.

Here’s my two cents. For creativity to thrive systemically, we have to encourage risk and bring together people and ideas that don’t often intersect. Right now there are too many meetings and conferences here where primarily white men in suits talk at you. Chicago needs more challenges to the status quo, more diversity in our conference rooms, more breaches of convention, more unusual partnerships, more appreciation of failure and, I’m not kidding about this one, more dancing.

I’m looking forward to hearing from a range of world-class speakers at the Summit–but also will keep my ears peeled for the in-between conversations, the openness to the new and the evidence of the crazy, which adds just a little extra fuel to the engine of creativity.

Do you have a suggestion to help Chicago become more of an innovation leader? Post a comment (or contact me) with an idea or two) and you’ll have a chance to win a ticket to the Innovation Summit on Thursday…

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